Seth J. Frantzman

Israel’s vaccine passports could be a model for the world

Israel's vaccine passports could be a model for the world
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In early February I received my green-coloured vaccine certification for having two jabs in Jerusalem. Now Israel is rolling out a 'green passport' that should enable the vaccinated to return to semi-normal life. This could lead to freedom to travel and even entrance to places like gyms and shopping centres, while the unvaccinated will have fewer privileges. Israel has pioneered a mass vaccination program and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in January: 'We will be able to open our economy quickly, the pubs, restaurants, gyms, schools, synagogues and theatres'. Today, Israel begins to roll out these green vaccination passports.

Israel's path to providing the vaccinated with privileges has been a rollercoaster. The country has had three major lockdowns and even with the mass vaccination of millions, the airports remain closed. A lockdown that began for a third time in December was partially lifted in mid-February and some schools re-opened. While fifty per cent of Israel’s total population has received at least one jab of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, two million people who are eligible had not been vaccinated by mid-February. It is believed that some will refuse to be vaccinated for reasons ranging from concerns over the vaccine to misinformation on social media. Israel’s plan to enable people like me with 'green' certificates, to get inside bars or gyms, has been greeted with confusion and controversy.

Here is what we know. Israel is begging people to get vaccinated, giving away free cholent, a kind of stew, to ultra-Orthodox Jews, and free pizza and beer to secular people in Tel Aviv. Israel’s special parliamentary coronavirus cabinet said businesses like gyms could reopen to the vaccinated who also have a negative Covid test. But the gym owners want everyone to be allowed to come and threaten to stay closed. Some have accused Israel of waging a 'war' against the unvaccinated, or depict the country as a giant test case for what the world may go through soon. 

The country’s motto is to 'return to [normal] life' with the green passports. This may facilitate entry to pools, gyms and other venues. Downloadable apps and other methods will enable millions to get the passports. There are still a lot of questions about which venues will restrict themselves to only the green passport holders. For the time being it appears many places, like shopping centres, will still allow the general public in while maintaining masks and distancing. The Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says people have a right not to get vaccinated. Those who are vaccinated will have their passport valid for six months after their second dose of the vaccine. 

The hurdles for the green passports appear to initially be technological. People need to download them and the app rollout was overwhelmed by demand at first. The second question is whether certain areas will soon be only for the passport holders, since at the moment it doesn’t appear there are venues restricted only to the vaccinated. The plan entails passports for gyms, sporting events, hotels, pools and cultural events. The elephant in the room would appear to relate to other cancelled activities that have made life seem abnormal, such as sitting inside a restaurant or a pub or going to see a movie. Already the multi-stage lifting of the lockdown has led people to feel a sense of new freedom. Jerusalem’s Gazelle Valley park, a central bucolic wetland that has a herd of deer, was bursting with families over the weekend. No green passport was required to enter.